Explanatory Pluralism: Comfort or Threat for Theologians?

Willem B. Drees*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


What is the theological significance of the philosophy of mind and debates on reductionism? Religious experience is rooted in processes in the brain (e.g. d'Aquili). Understanding this may offer the theologian some arguments against dismissive accounts of religion, but it challenges claims regarding a non-natural referent. Problems with treating the world-God relationship as analogous to the one between brain and mind (as Philip Clayton does) are pointed out. The idea that Christians must side with irreducibilists in the philosophy of mind is criticized. Ontological irreducibility seems theologically unnecessary, as God can be the creator of a world with one, two or any other number of aspects. Epistemological irreducibility is insufficient for such a theology, as it comes with a naturalistic understanding of human nature. Thus, contemporary philosophy of mind may be an ally in arguing against an easy dismissal of religious practices and convictions, but at the same time it challenges a supernaturalist view of religion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)808-817
Number of pages10
JournalTheory & Psychology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Clayton
  • d'Aquili
  • philosophy of mind
  • reductionism
  • religion


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